Mobile Phones Spark Foreign Policy Awareness in Rural Patna

In the village of Maner near Patna, mobile phone penetration has significantly increased awareness of global issues and India's foreign policy. Local residents, influenced by digital media and figures like External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, discuss global topics more frequently as they prepare to vote.


PTI | Patna | Updated: 29-05-2024 15:57 IST | Created: 29-05-2024 15:57 IST
Mobile Phones Spark Foreign Policy Awareness in Rural Patna
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In the quiet village of Maner, many worlds removed from the Ukraine-Russia war zone or the rooms of power where diplomatic nuances are hammered out, global issues and India's profile are discussed animatedly and even a factor as people get ready to vote.

Most people may not completely comprehend the intricacies of foreign policy but that doesn't mean they are ill-informed, said Manoj Saw, a mehndi artist from the village on the outskirts of the Bihar capital. Describing the scene in his neighbourhood, he also identifies the reason for this interest.

The game changer, in his view, is mobile phone penetration. While jobs and prices are predominant, pressing global concerns have huge resonance too, said the 40-year-old.

The Bihar capital has two parliamentary constituencies -- Patna Sahib and Pataliputra -- both of which have sitting MPs from the BJP. Elections for these two seats will take place on June 1, the last round of the seven-phase exercise.

Saw said many nuances escape him but he is aware of India's role in G20 and the role of the government in evacuating Indian students after the Ukraine-Russia conflict broke out.

''Earlier, when mobile phones had not reached villages, we had to wait for newspapers the next morning to know what has happened even in Patna. Now, thanks to our mobile phones, we get to know immediately what is happening in Delhi, and outside India,'' Saw told PTI.

He said he knows of the Ukraine-Russia conflict that began in 2022. ''I don't understand it much but I had seen in the news that Indian students were evacuated by the government. People I know are talking about such issues more than in previous elections.'' The Maner resident, who sets up shop at the Maurya Lok Complex in the city, said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's videos are popular. "I see them with Hindi subtitles if available,'' he said.

Over the years, the understanding of foreign policy issues has grown in not just Maner but other areas, including rural belts, in and around Patna.

Saw is evidence of it. As is Laxman Kumar, who makes his living selling lassi and keeps himself informed through videos on YouTube and other social media platforms and news items.

''I had seen videos of G20 too when it happened in India,'' the 23-year-old said.

This is the first general election since India hosted the G20 summit last year. India held the chair of the influential bloc for a year starting December 1, 2022. According to Patna native Diptanshu Sinha, 27, the successful hosting of G20 and Jaishankar's persona coupled with his ''astronomical number of followers'' on social media have taken foreign policy from metros to small towns.

''I certainly think of it as a citizen, and a voter, but domestic issues are far too many which take precedence. However, many of my friends and acquaintances in my neighbourhood in Patna say the image and profile of India globally has gone up, and therefore it is a voting factor for them'' he told PTI.

Sinha, an architect who last year moved to Gurgaon for a new job, booked tickets to travel to Patna to cast his vote in Patna Sahib Lok Sabha seat.

BJP's incumbent and former Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is seeking a second term from the seat, while the opposition INDIA bloc has fielded Anshul Avijit, grandson of former railway minister Babu Jagjiwan Ram and son of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, on a Congress ticket.

In Pataliputra, BJP has locked horns with RJD's Misa Bharati, Lalu Yadav's daughter, seeking to wrest the seat from Ram Kripal Yadav.

Subhash Kumar, who is in his mid 60s and runs a printer shop in an old lodge near Patna Junction railway station, said he closely follows global news, particularly the Ukraine-Russia and the Israel-Hamas conflicts as well as India's response to such evolving geopolitical situations.

Patna-based author and film critic Prashant Ranjan also credits the ''wider consumption'' of foreign policy-rated news to the penetration of mobile phones in villages and small towns.

''I see old men in my villages listening to speeches of S Jaishankar and watching his videos, most of which go viral. They may not know much about diplomats or diplomacy, but their consumption of foreign policy-related stuff has grown manifold,'' he told PTI.

Ranjan, who voted in the sixth phase of the elections in East Champaran Lok Sabha seat, said he is keeping a close watch on the twin contests in Patna.

''A villager in my district may not know Jaishankar's exact job, but they will say he was posted abroad as an officer and did good for the country. Many of these villagers even know South China Sea. That's how deep foreign policy has seeped into the psyche,'' he said.

Of course, Jaishankar's appeal to the youth, his social media outreach is a factor in popularising foreign policy domestically, Ranjan added.

Over 43 lakh voters in total are eligible to exercise their franchise, spanning the two constituencies, according to official data shared by Patna district authorities.

While domestic issues largely find space in election rallies and political speeches, both the ruling BJP and Congress, the largest opposition party in INDIA bloc, have devoted a chapter to foreign policy in their manifestos, notably amid the ongoing geopolitical scenario.

Congress in its manifesto pledged to ''restore India's global reputation as a voice of peace and moderation in world affairs'' and said it will ''work to strengthen India's role in multilateral institutions''.

It also pledged to ''restore India's global reputation as a voice of peace and moderation in world affairs'' and said it will ''work to strengthen India's role in multilateral institutions''.

The BJP manifesto speaks of a 'Vishwa Bandhu Bharat' and a 'Bharat First foreign policy' that will further position it as a voice of the Global South, as a first responder in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, besides its bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

''... as one surveys the political landscape in India, foreign policy seems to have descended from its rarified perch. Conversations about India's role in the world can be heard on street corners, at the dinner table, and around the proverbial water cooler. While elites might still dominate the production of foreign policy, its consumption has been democratised,'' reads an article in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

As voters in Patna and its nearby areas prepare to exercise their franchise, it certainly seems so.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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